Vitamins (also known as micronutrients) are essential substances that your body needs to function normally.
Vitamins can fuel your body to help do things like heal wounds, repair cells, and support immunity. Your body can produce some vitamins on its own, but it needs others to come from sources like food or supplements.
And mostly food.
“When it comes to vitamins and minerals, food should be your first and main source,” says Brieanna Peabody, a health coach educator at WellSpark Health, a ConnectiCare affiliate. “The goal is to eat a variety and balance of nutrient dense foods to meet your daily nutritional needs.”
The ABCs of vitamins
We need around 30 vitamins, minerals, and other components to support bodily functions. Here’s a quick vitamin rundown, including health benefits and food sources of each vitamin, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic. Ask your doctor how much of each vitamin they recommend for you.
- Vitamin A plays a role in vision health, growth, cell division, reproduction, and immunity. It may even protect you against some cancers. It’s in dairy products, organ meats, green leafy vegetables, eggs, and fish, like salmon. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, so it is smart to eat some foods that are rich in beta-carotene as well. Those include carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins.
- Vitamin B-6 can reduce high plasma homocysteine levels, which can help reduce your risk of a stroke or heart disease. Vitamin B-6 also plays a big role in sleep, appetite, and mood. You can find vitamin B-6 in meat, poultry, fish, legumes, chickpeas, and bananas. Just one chicken breast has 0.8 mg!
- Vitamin B-12 is also found in meat, fish and poultry, as well as eggs and dairy products. It can also be found in nutritional yeast, and other fortified food products. Like vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 may also help prevent strokes and lower your risk for heart disease. Vitamin B-12 also protects nerve cells and encourages normal growth.
- Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, possibly helping protect your body against cell damage by molecules called “free radicals” that are in food or the environment — such as tobacco smoke or radiation. You can find this vitamin in citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, red peppers, and potatoes. It is also beneficial for eye health and may reduce the risk of mouth, esophagus, stomach, and breast cancer. Contrary to popular belief, there is no real evidence that vitamin C prevents or helps treat the common cold.
- Vitamin D may help prevent osteoporosis, reduce certain cancers and multiple sclerosis, and improve osteoarthritis, as researchers are investigating the possibility of a link. Your skin can produce some vitamin D when exposed to the sun, but it is usually not enough to meet your body’s needs. Your doctor may recommend a supplement for that reason. You can get vitamin D from milk, margarine, fatty fish, mushrooms, and fish oils.
- Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter. It works to neutralize unstable molecules that have the potential to damage cells. Diets rich in vitamin E may support healthy immune function and the widening of blood vessels to help prevent blood clots. Some studies show it may help slow or decline the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Folate is a vitamin needed to make DNA and other genetic materials. It’s found in legumes, oranges, grains, leafy greens, and cereals. Some possible health benefits of folate include lowering risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer. However, folate supplements might have different effects on cancer risk.
- Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and may improve bone health. It is found in leafy greens, soy, eggs, blueberries, meat, and canola oil.
Talk to your doctor before changing your diet or lifestyle.
If you take vitamins in a pill form, do not take more than the recommended daily dose. Some vitamins—especially fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K—can become toxic if too much is ingested.
“There are possible drug and nutrient interactions to be aware of especially if you have a chronic condition,” says Peabody. Vitamin recommendations may vary based on age, gender, and your stage of life. Plus, women who are pregnant may need different amounts of vitamins than the average recommended amount. Always check with your doctor to see what he or she recommends for you.
Can vitamins prevent conditions like COVID-19?
Presently, there is no cure for the coronavirus (COVID-19), and there is not enough research that supports taking vitamin supplements to prevent or treat COVID-19. The best things you can do are follow the recommended safety guidelines, eat well, be active, and make time for self-care. And if you need help with any of those things, the WellSpark health coaches are here to help.
For more information